Today we are going to talk about a very specific goal: body composition goals. I want to be very careful in limiting the scope of this blog post to this one very specific goal. I understand that not everyone will have aesthetic goals, and that’s okay! This blog post only applies and makes sense within the context of an aesthetic goal. Got it?! Got it!
I recently came across an ad that said:
“Cardio Monday! HIIT Tuesday! Yoga Wednesday! Barre Thursday! Recovery Friday! Never get bored of your fitness routine!”
Hey, I don’t think your fitness routine should be boring either. I also think it’s great to try new things. But there does come a point where you must ask if your fitness routine makes sense with what your goal is. When selecting workouts, I prefer to opt for the most efficient way to reach my goal.
If the goal is an aesthetic one, that is, you want your body to look a certain way, and you’d like your exercise selection to help you get there, then an exercise lineup like the one above is not going to help you reach your goal in a time-efficient way.
Think of it this way: if your goal was to make $100k/year, you wouldn’t accept a job that paid $20/hour. It would make a lot more sense to take a job that paid $100/hour.
Same goes for fitness. I already know the resistance I’ll hear. “But Caitlin….my goal is not to look like the Incredible Hulk. I just want to look fit/toned/healthy.” Understand that when you say you want to look toned, what you are really saying is that you want to build muscle. There is no magical adaptation that occurs between building muscle and not building muscle. If you are changing the tone, look, and feel of your arms/butt/legs/belly…you are building muscle. You are not toning. “Toning” is not actually a thing.
There is also no accidental Hulking that happens. I can promise you with 100% certainty that you will not accidentally grow grotesquely large muscles by resistance training.
About 3% of women do have the genetics to put on some serious muscle without much effort. If you’re in that 3%, first of all, I’m jealous of you. I have been strength training for five years; I can squat 2.5 times my bodyweight and deadlift over 3 times my bodyweight, which exceed the standing Minnesota state records in powerlifting, and I still get told quite frequently that I am “skinny.” Now, most people cannot imagine someone training 5-6 times a week for 1-3 hours a day for several years would be considered “skinny.” But the truth is that muscle takes a long time to grow, and the way your muscles look largely depends on your genetics. I am proof you can also get very strong without looking extremely muscular.
So, if you are one of the 3% of women who can put on muscle without dedicating your life to it, then consider yourself very lucky! You can probably do minimal exercising with mostly your own bodyweight a couple times a week and maintain the physique you want. But for the rest of us, we’ll have to pursue the most efficient route, because none of us has 40 hours a week to devote to exercise, which is probably what it would take to meet your aesthetic goal following a calendar of “cardio Monday, HIIT Tuesday, yoga Wednesday, & barre Thursday.”
So, for the rest of us, a standard resistance training program will be the single best use of our time. You can use light weights and high reps, or heavier weights and low reps, as long as the effort on each set is there. If we changed our exercise program dramatically every single day, we wouldn’t make much progress. Too much randomization and lack of structure can make accomplishing a goal very difficult and time-consuming. Training with purpose, effort, and more rigidity will allow you to reach your goal in a fraction of the time. Boring? Depends on the program. Effective? You bet.
The only reason we as females are being endlessly supplied with the false dilemma of fun cardio/yoga/barre/pilates and boring, bulk-producing resistance training is because fitness marketers realized that the former simply sells better. But instead of dispelling the myth that weight training a few times a week won’t actually make your muscles bust out of your clothes, fitness marketers decided it’s better to market yoga, cardio, and other forms of exercise that, while they are all fantastic, aren’t efficient in meeting an aesthetic goal. We’re being sold unobtainable bodies by way of fantastical, pie-in-the-sky exercise programs. We’re being told that not only will resistance training make you bulky, it is also boring, so you’re better off avoiding it altogether. I would say it’s anything but boring, but that’s a blog post for a different day! In sum, here’s what I’ve found to actually be true: Nothing is more boring than not seeing results.
– Coach Caitlin
Thank you Bret Contreras, PhD, (www.bretcontreras.com) for the inspiration for this post, and for providing the excellent analogy about wages and salary goals!